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What does it mean? – Carbon neutral, carbon negative, climate positive

What does it mean?  is our new series which looks at all of the complicated and often confusing terms that get thrown around in the ‘sustainability’ space. It aims to help you (and us, let’s be honest) get a bit clearer on what they mean.

We’re kicking things off with one of the OGs – carbon.

Carbon negative, climate positive, carbon neutral. 

You may have seen some of these terms used to describe products or companies that claim to be ‘environmentally friendly’. But what do they mean? And why are they necessary in the first place?

Let’s start with the basics. Companies put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through various activities i.e. using electricity, industrial processes, creating their products, transportation etc. And these emissions are contributing to global warming, so that’s not good. So what can these companies do about this, besides ceasing these activities altogether?

This is where ‘Carbon Neutral’ comes in. Whilst in some cases these emissions can be reduced, some carbon producing activities may be unavoidable. So companies can choose to ‘offset’ their carbon emissions so that it’s effectively as if zero carbon has entered the atmosphere. 

They do this through carbon offsetting projects, which are designed to absorb or recapture carbon emissions from the atmosphere. Some examples include planting trees or investing in renewable energy. If a company is reducing and recapturing their carbon emissions to achieve effectively no emissions, they are considered ‘Carbon Neutral’. 

Ok great. But what if a business wants to do more? Glad you asked – and welcome to the next phrase in carbon explanations:

Carbon Negative

This means that a company takes more carbon out of the atmosphere than they emit. What? But carbon ‘negative’ makes it sound like a bad thing? We know. Very confusing. That’s where Climate Positive comes in. It means exactly the same as Carbon Negative but sounds better.

The final term you might have seen is Carbon Positive. Companies might use this to mean the same as carbon negative/climate positive. But it’s understandably confusing and best to be avoided. 

So in a nutshell. 

Carbon Neutral means a business is offsetting the carbon created by its emission-producing activities.

Carbon Negative/Climate Positive are the same thing. They mean a business goes the extra mile to remove more carbon than they emit. We just use Carbon Negative because it’s the official term used by scientists. And we like to listen to them.

So now you know.

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